Sheltowee Trace Shakedown Hike 12/28/2019

Start of the hike, both excited and scared!

The Shakedown

I awoke this morning to the lingering smell of Deep Blue essential oil on my pajamas. A Ziploc bag full of water was beside me, the bed around it damp from the condensation of melting ice cubes. I was stiff and my leg hurt. I grabbed my phone to self diagnose an inflamed IT Band (Iliotibial Band). It took several minutes to gather the courage to arise from the bed, and I walked stiff-legged to a bare wall to lean on while I gently stretched my tight muscles. The blue foam roller called to me. As I slowly lowered myself to my knees then onto the roller, I clasped my hands as if in prayer, my head bowed while I rolled back and forth over my thighs. It hurt so good. I tenuously maneuvered my aching body into Child’s pose, and lingered there, not wanting to get up.

Shakedown Hikers – L to R: Vicky, Julianne, Rush, Brent, Morgan, Andy and Roscoe the dog
Sheltowee Trace Sign at Corner Ridge Road Trailhead

Two days earlier (12/28/19) I met 5 strangers who were up for the adventure of a 17 mile ”shakedown“ hike on the Sheltowee Trace in preparation for the 2020 Sheltowee Trace Hiker Challenge with the Sheltowee Trace Association. A shakedown is meant to test your equipment, your pack and your ability. We arrived at the Corner Ridge Road Trailhead near Frenchburg, KY (our ending point), where David would shuttle us all to Whittleton Campground in Slade KY. I learned that Vicky Lantz (see Vicky’s great blog – Vicky’s Adventures), Morgan, Brent, Andy and Rush were all seasoned hikers and a bit of intimidation began to set it. Oh, but I mustn’t forget Roscoe! This gentle, part pit rescue dog also accompanied us, pulling along Morgan or Brent from his leash.

We went through the Nada Tunnel on the way to Whittleton Campground
Whittleton Campground
Early Morning Fog on the way to the trail
Fog shrouded roadway
Fog provided a lovely morning scene on Day 1
One of the hikers on the trail

The early morning fog had introduced a beautiful day for a hike, temperatures in the 50’s. I was immediately full of both awe and reverence as I always am when I enter a forest. As we hit the trail, it was apparent that this was a group of fast hikers. Rush was enthusiastic as he chatted about his adventures on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and others. Even as they pulled ahead I could hear his voice competing with the sounds of the forest that I longed to hear. I found myself thinking “utshay upyay Rush!” I quickly forgave him though. He was friendly. They all were, and I learned that I liked to experience both the sounds and the sights of the forest as well as the new friendships this hike would bring.

The group at Indian Arch – L-R: Julianne, Morgan, Brent, Andy, Vicky and Roscoe the dog
Resting at the Indian Arch

Periodically I would find the group waiting for me until I caught up. I hated to hold them up – actually enjoyed hiking alone, but was so grateful to have them watching out for me. This was especially true when I grabbed onto a decaying tree trunk to pull myself up over a steep outcrop. The added burden of my backpack made it more difficult. My hand came away with a handful of rotten wood and I slipped. Catching myself, I looked down. This could have been a deadly fall. I was comforted in knowing that at least there would be someone who could potentially locate my lifeless body.

Trail Scene — some places were narrow and tight
Wilderness Trail
Wild Mushrooms
Mushrooms on a tree

There are no words for the beauty around me, the wonder that I felt. There are also no words for the difficulty either. The effort was rewarding, satisfying, worth the sacrifice. I realized that I was more capable than I thought. We hiked over 11 miles the first day, the longest distance ever for me.

I’m certain that my slower pace delayed our arrival at camp until after dark. Headlamps adorned we quickly set up camp near Indian Arch. Brent had a fire in no time and I broke in my alcohol stove which boiled water within minutes for my freeze dried meal pouch of Chana Masala for two. I set up my Sheltowee Hammock and tent like tarp like a pro (although it was the first time), tying the knots that Alex Gash (the owner of Sheltowee Hammocks) had shown me. Alex made my hammock with custom colors of grey and Moroccan Blue. I loved it. I was feeling grateful for what I knew would be a warm, dry, comfortable night in solitude where I could ponder the spectacular day. I sat there in my hammock, gently swaying as I ate the entire meal for two and settled in to sleep. It was only 7:30 PM.

Sleep would not come however. Outside my enclosed sanctuary of the tent like tarp, the others sat around the campfire. Unseen, I felt like an intruder to their conversation, yet could not escape their words. This common experience had already created both a bond and freedom as they shared their most intimate stories. Much of it was difficult to hear. These were my new friends, but I realized it was another world they lived in, with experiences foreign and at times horrific to me. It was another reminder of how insulated my life is. With this new adventure I embraced the richness that comes with acceptance and diversity.

One of the Suspension Bridges along the Sheltowee Trace
Vicky hiking in the rain

The night was long with sleep evading me. Once the campfire conversations died down and others retreated to their tents, the quiet solitude was deafening. I was desperate for sleep. At about 1:30 AM I begin to hear sporadic raindrops on my tarp which was unexpected. I quickly unzipped my Hammock cocoon and grabbed the things I had left outside my tarp, pulling them in to be safe and dry. The hypnotizing rain became steady and yet sleep still eluded me. I began to meditate, concentrating on the cadence of the rain accompanied by the synchronized snores of my fellow campers. The symphony was punctuated by the occasional jingle from the chain on Roscoe’s collar as he shook the rain from his coat. Soon I would feel his nudge under my hammock as he found a dry space under my tarp. Added to the concert of falling rain and snoring was the smell of wet dog.

Early sunrise as seen from camp

We arose with the sun. I’m not sure I slept at all but was spurred into action when I realized others were packing up. I quickly heated the water I had filtered from the creek for my oatmeal which I had pre-assembled in a baggie with raisins, cinnamon, walnuts, and ground flax seeds. I knew it would be a hearty start to a challenging day and hoped it would sustain me until the hike was over. As it set in my camp pot, it tipped over spilling some of its contents. I would have a smaller portion, and Roscoe would get an unexpected treat which he eagerly lapped up.

Finishing the trail in the rain with Vicky
Trail Beauty

The second day of our hike would be 6 miles. I thought it would be easy, with such a short distance compared to the day before. But adding to the hike was a steady downpour of rain. I enjoyed this new experience in reality. It was new to me and refreshing. It wasn’t too cold, and the rain made the forest glisten, adding a new layer of beauty. I was prepared with a new raincoat which included pit zips, a feature using descriptive terminology I found hilarious. It provided great ventilation and I was comfortable despite the rain. The hiking though became more tenuous for me. My previous broken arm had occurred on a slippery rock face and I cautiously considered and gingerly placed each foot in front of the other, falling further and further behind. My right knee began to bother me, especially walking downhill, and despite the added exertion I looked forward to trudging up the hills, and dreading the downhill. The path had become less rocky, more steady, but there was evidence that horses had used the trail which created deep puddles of muddy water mixed with horse manure. Ahead of me now was a wide creek and there, sitting alone under a tree in the rain was Vicky, the wonderful trail guide who had volunteered to host my shakedown. The others thankfully had long before abandoned any effort to wait for me, and on this day I enjoyed a mostly solitaire hike. I was happy to see Vicky though. Surely we were almost done! The creek was deeper than any we had crossed and I scanned the banks for a place to rock-hop. It wasn’t to be. Vicky matter-of-factly announced that I would be getting my feet wet during the upcoming challenge and I may as well get used to it. She instructed me to just march through the water. I knew it would come over the boots which had thus far kept my feet dry, and it did! I hiked the remaining distance with wet feet!

You’re going to get wet feet, but not here if you’re careful!
Brent, Morgan and Roscoe finishing the hike
Sheltowee Trace logo found on trees on the trail

Once across the creek I saw ahead of me the familiar white turtle trail blaze on a tree trunk, yet Vicky was turning left. I questioned her to make sure we were on the right path and pointed out the blaze ahead of us. Vicky knew the trail and assured me that we were to go left, and I trusted her. Soon she was once again out of sight. Had Vicky not been there to guide me, it would’ve met another 11 miles on top of my 6 mile hike that day.

I methodically placed one foot in front of the other, weary and in pain hoping the next turn would reveal the trail head parking lot. Each log across the path became a dreaded barrier as I contemplated how I would navigate it without bending my knee. I began to become discouraged, questioning my ability to complete the Sheltowee trace challenge during the upcoming year. I realized that I was completing this 17 mile hike in two days, and that many of the hikes in front of me would be 17 miles in one day! How could I possibly do that as tired, as weary, as spent as I was?

Hiking with Vicky
I Made It!!

Once again, I saw ahead of me the familiar  patterned raincoat that Vicky wore. Missing was her backpack! As I approached she announced that we were close, and that David was waiting. She had come back to escort me the remaining distance. We talked as I hobbled onward. She asked about and addressed my concerns regarding the upcoming Sheltowee Trace Challenge. She reassured and encouraged me. Her confidence in my ability lifted me from despair and discouragement. I can do this! I will do this!

Julianne and Vicky at the finish of the hike

David took pictures as we approached — my own personal paparazzi! The sense of accomplishment surprised me, and the gratitude I felt elevated my spirits, overwhelming me. I will be forever thankful for this experience and the part that Vicky and the others played in making it a most memorable and rich introduction to more adventures ahead.

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A Grab Bag from America’s Back Roads – The T Things #AtoZChallenge

In 2018 I  will feature a random (yet alphabetical) selection of photos I have taken from my nearly 20 years of back roads travel in the United States and Canada.  I may even throw in a few random shots from other trips to Japan, Mexico and the Philippines. My theme is called America’s Back Roads: A Grab Bag of Places in Pictures.

 

Talent, Oregon

Welcome to Talent, Oregon
Talent Mural
Talent Police

Tee Pee Motel – Wharton, Texas

Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX
Sumoflam at the Tee Pee Motel in Wharton, TX

Thoroughbred Park – Lexington, Kentucky

Thoroughbred Park, Lexington, KY
Horse and jockey racing down the track. Perhaps my favorite photo of all from Thoroughbred Park

Tightwad, Missouri

Tightwad, MO
Tightwad Bank – no longer in business, but was fun to see while there

Tornado, West Virginia

Tornado, WV
Tornado Church

Top of the World Store – Beartooth Pass – near Cody, Wyoming

Welcome to Top of the World Store on Beartooth Pass Highway north of Cody, Wyoming.
Sumoflam at Top of the World on the Beartooth Highway in Wyoming

Tulum, Mexico

Enjoying a visit to the Tulum Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico

Tews Falls – Hamilton, Ontario

Tews Falls in Hamilton, Ontario
Tews Falls, Hamilton, Ontario

Trailer Park Eatery – Austin, Texas

Trailer Park Eatery in Austin — a hybrid “food truck” type of place comprised of trailers that are actually like food trucks
Trailer Park Eatery. Check out the Airstreams!

Teddy Rides Again – Enchanted Highway – Regent, North Dakota

Enchanted Highway Stop #6 – Teddy Rides Again
Sumoflam at Teddy Rides Again

Two Medicine Dinosaur Center – Bynum, Montana

Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Bynum, Montana

Texas Instruments Sculpture – LSA Burger Co. – Denton, Texas

Texas Instruments, a unique sculpture at the LSA Burger Co., in Denton
A section of the Texas Instruments

Three Sisters – Sisters, Oregon

Three Sisters – nicknamed Faith/Hope/Charity near Sister’s Oregon

Toad Suck, Arkansas

Toad Suck, Arkansas
Sumoflam in Toad Suck, AR

Trillium Woods Provincial Park – Woodstock, Ontario

A walking trail at Trillium Woods Provincial Park

Torch, Ohio

Torch, Ohio

Tacoma Narrows Bridge – Tacoma, Washington

Sunset over Tacoma Narrows bridge
Mt. rainier as seen from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Turkey Vultures – McKee, Kentucky; Versailles, Kentucky; Taylorsville, Kentucky

Turkey Vultures guard their meal near McKee, KY
A Turkey Vulture, also called a buzzard, flying way overhead in Versailles, KY
Turkey vulture gathering on a road in central Kentucky

Thermopolis, Wyoming

Welcome to Thermopolis, WY
A sign about the Hot Springs of Thermopolis

Trail Town USA – Damascus, Virginia

Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails

Ten Sleep, Wyoming

Crazy Woman Cafe in Ten Sleep, Wyoming
Ten Sleep Canyon on US 16 near Ten Sleep, WY

Thronehenge – Apple Valley Hillbilly Garden – Calvert City, Kentucky

Thronehenge in the Hillbilly Garden

Tomahawk, Wisconsin

Tomahawk, WI
Big Bull Moose in Tomahawk, WI

Texan Motel – Raton, New Mexico

Texan Motel neon in Raton, New Mexico

Teton Drive In – Rexburg, Idaho

The old Teton Drive-In – Rexburg, Idaho

This Way and That Way – Lake Jackson, Texas

Corner of This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, TX
This Way U Turn
Plaque describing the naming of the roads This Way and That Way in Lake Jackson, TX

Taughannock Falls – Ulysses, New York

Taughannock Falls in New York

Turtle Twist Ice Cream – Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Turtle Twist Ice Cream in Canonsburg, PA

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Medora, South Dakota

Some of the scenic and colorful hills of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Teepee Cafe – Bonesteel, South Dakota

TeePee Cafe – Bonesteel, South Dakota

Taisekiji – Fujinomiya, Japan

One of the huge buildings of Taisekiji in Fuji-no-miya (ca. 1978)
Towering pillars of Taisekiji. Notice the little dots at the bottom…those are people. (ca. 1978)

Tower Rock State Park – Cascade, Montana

Missouri River in Tower Rock State Park
Hardy Bridge in Tower Rock State Park

Tioga, Texas

Tioga, Texas – Birthplace of Gene Autry
Tioga Heritage Museum
Rustic shopping area of Tioga, Texas

Tallman Hotel – Upper Lake, California

The Tallman Hotel
Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake, CA

Tersier (Actually called a Tarsius) – Bohol, Philippines

A Tersier on Bohol

Tunica, Mississippi

Gateway to the Blues, Tunica, Mississippi
The Tate Log House in Tunica, MS

Thorncrown Chapel – Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Tom Sawyer’s Fence – Hannibal, Missouri

My two sons, Seth and Solomon, at Tom Sawyer’s Fence in Hannibal, Missouri., Summer 2001

Threadgill’s – Austin, Texas

Threadgills in Austin
Janis Joplin painting at Threadgill’s

Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Truth or Consequences, NM
NM 152 near Truth or Consequences, NM

Two-Tailed Walleye – Shell Lake, Wisconsin

Two Tailed Walleye Statue in Shell Lake
Sumoflam with the Shell Lake Two-Tailed Walleye

Train Murals – Gauley Bridge, West Virginia; Ravenna, Kentucky; Glasgow, Montana

Train Mural in Gauley Bridge painted by Nancy Lane to commemorate the rich rail heritage of the town.
A large mural of a train welcomes visitors to Ravenna, KY
Train mural in Glasgow Montana on the side of a building

Texas Pipe Supply – Houston, Texas

Giant Armadillo – Texas Pipe Company – Houston, Texas
Big Scrap Metal Stegosaurus – Texas Pipe Company – Houston, Texas

Twin Buttes – Atomic City, Idaho

Twin Buttes near Atomic City as seen heading west to Arco, ID

Three-Legged Willie – Georgetown, Texas

Statue of Three-Legged Willie in Georgetown, TX

Totem Poles – Neah Bay, Washington; Blueberry, Wisconsin; Ketchikan, Alaska; Superior, Wisconsin

A totem pole in Neah Bay, WA
Scrap Metal totem pole outside of Blueberry, WI Antique store
Sumoflam with a Totem Pole in Ketchikan
Wooden Bear Totem Pole – Gronk’s in Superior, Wisconsin

Troll City – Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin

Welcome to Mt. Horeb, WI
Ahhh..trolls
Another Mt. Horeb Troll (or two?)
One of dozens of HUGE trolls in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin
Grumpy Troll Brew Pub and Restaurant, Mt. Horeb, WI
Another Mt. Horeb Troll – for good measure

If you like what you see, you may want to check out my book: Less Beaten Paths of America: Unique Town Names, available on Amazon.  My second book, Less Beaten Paths of America: Quirky and Offbeat Roadside Attractions, will be available in late April or early May 2018. Click on the photo below for more details or to get a copy of the book.

Books 1 & 2

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A visit to Damascus, Virginia

Welcome to Damascus
Welcome to Damascus

Last weekend we made a trip to Damascus, VA with the goal of Julianne and our daughter Marissa riding their bikes on the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of many wonderful Rails to Trails bike trails that can be found in this part of the country.

 

Virginia CreeperI will have a different post about the Virginia Creeper Trail as part of my Bike Trail Series, but I wanted to post an article about the non-bike portion of our trip to Damascus, Abingdon, and Bristol, VA.  Besides the bike trail, there is so much more to see and do on a  road trip down to this part of Appalachia.

We began our trip by leaving early in the morning on Saturday to drive to Damascus via the towns of Hazard and Whitesburg in Kentucky on US Highways 23 and 119. Once into Virginia, we passed through the small towns of Pound and Wise.

Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains of SE Kentucky near Whitesburg
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Fog in the Mountains south of Hazard, KY. The vegetation is covered with kudzu
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia
Beautiful Highway heading into Virginia at Pound Gap

The entire drive that morning was beautiful as we passed through the mountains of Kentucky and Virginia. The mountains were laced with fog and low clouds in this beautiful part of Appalachia.  Many of the plants and telephone lines were covered with the invasive Kudzu (also known as Japanese Arrowroot) plant…though obnoxious, it does have its own eerie beauty.

Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Pound Gap Historical Sign on the Virginia Border
Welcome to Virginia
Welcome to Virginia
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn't find anything. Oh well...you have a photo of the sign
Saw this on Business 23 as we entered into Pound, VA. Tried to find a town named Donkey in VA, but couldn’t find anything. Oh well…you have a photo of the sign
Pound, VA
Pound, VA

Our first actual stop on the road was right as we entered the town of Pound. As we come down the hill there is a large mural painted on the side of a wall by the highway. As always, I stopped to grab a photo to add to my growing collection of wall murals from around the US and Canada. We then drove through the little village of Pound to see if there was anything interesting, which there wasn’t.  But, these small little towns always have a charm about them.

Pound Mural in Pound, VA
Pound Mural in Pound, VA – 105 feet wide and 25 feet tall painted by Kingsport, TN Tattoo Artist Ben Rigg and Simon Henry. Represents some history of the residents of the area.
The Crooked Road - Virginia Heritage Music Trail
The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail

Along US 23 after getting into Virginia, we came across signs that said we were on “The Crooked Road.”  The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, following U.S. Route 58, but also with parts on U.S. Route 23.

The road winds through over 333 miles of scenic terrain in southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, four cities, and 54 towns.  Famed Bluegrass musicians such as Ralph Stanley, Joe Wilson, the Carter Family Fold and others, all hailed from this area.

Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Crooked Road Historical Sign near the Virginia Border with Kentucky
Welcome to Whitetop, VA
Welcome to Whitetop, VA

From Pound we made our way into Wise, VA on US 23 and just continued on the road to Damascus.  Our trip eventually took us into Abingdon and then on to Damascus. From there we then went up US Highway 58 to Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and near the top of Whitetop Mountain where there is a station called Whitetop Station where the bike trail begins (actually begins about a mile away in North Carolina).

Whitetop Station
Whitetop Station
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Dropped off my wife and daughter at Whitetop Station.
Green Cove Station in Virginia
Green Cove Station in Virginia

It was a beautiful drive up there and they departed on their ride down the hill. Whitetop Station is about 3500′ in altitude and Damascus is at 1952′, so in a 17 mile stretch they would drop about 1600 feet. (I’ll cover that in a separate Bike Trail Post)  After dropping them off, I drove a few mile back to Green Cove Station, which is another stop along the Virginia Creeper Trail.  It was packed with bikers, but is also a very scenic part of the route.

Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station
Virginia Creeper Trail shirts for sale at Whitetop Station

Both Whitetop and Green Cove have snacks, drinks and also sell some t-shirts and hats, proceeds of which go to benefit the Creeper Trail Association that maintains the trail.

The stations also carry a few tools and some spare tires, etc., that have been donated by other riders.

Certainly worth a brief visit to see their offerings if you are up that way.

A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
A pastoral scene from near the Green Cove Station on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove -- it is election season 2016
Unique sign posting on a church in Green Cove — it is election season 2016

This area near Green Cove is dotted with Christmas Tree farms and is a lusciously pastoral environment for both the bikers and those tat are driving the back roads. The scene above is indicative (and you can see the Christmas tree grove on the left side).

IMG_6760rev

At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails
At the Cross Roads of the Virginia Creeper and Appalachian Trails

From Green Cove I headed back down to the town of Damascus and drove around. Damascus touts itself as “Trail Town USA.” The reason for this is because many trails seem to converge into this town, most specifically the Appalachian Trail which is America’s most famous hiking trail and then the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail, which is one of the more well-known bike trails. There are apparently a few other trails that come through the area.

A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
A hiker on the Appalachian Trail walks the trail into Damascus
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
There is a constant stream of bikers on the Creeper Trail
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.
Damascus calls itself Trail Town USA for a reason. The Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail and others come to a crossroads here.

SunDog

Inside SunDog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd
Inside Sundog Outfitters in Damascus, one of many shops catering to the biking and hiking crowd

The entire town is set up to handle this “trail traffic.” There are outdoor shops, a number of bike shops that sell and rent bikes, there are outfitters that provide the things needed for hiking and camping such as tents and sleeping bags. Many of the eateries in town also cater to this type of crowd, thus giving the town a very relaxed and very friendly atmosphere.  Sundog Outfitters was a great place for this and also has a large bike repair area with most of the items needed.  We know as we had to get a repair done  there during our visit.

Looking for Sleeping Bags?  Check out this review.

A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
A variety of t-shirts and other amenities at SunDog Outfitters
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus
Hiker painting on a restroom wall in Damascus

Another thing I liked about the town was the murals. I am always looking for interesting murals and wall paintings. There are 4 or 5 murals including the Trail Town USA mural (shown above) which features a large compass and a life size mural poster of the Appalachian Trail with a pioneer on it.  The Town Park features some interesting murals on the Restroom Walls…one of them I took has become one of my more popular Instagram photos. Following are a couple more I came across.

A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A nice representation of an old hiker on the Appalachian Trail
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo
A barber shop mural with the Appalachian Trail logo on the Barber Pole
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
A mural of mountain scenery on the side of a building in Damascus
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
One of a number of murals on the side of building along the trail
The Inn on Creeper Way - one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus
The Inn on Creeper Way – one of many B&B places on the Creeper Trail in Damascus (see their site HERE)

Unfortunately, as I noted above, Julianne’s bike broke down along the first few miles of the trail and she and Marissa ended up being stranded.  They made their way to the Upbeet Cafe and the Creeper Trail Cafe, located along the trail on Taylor Valley Road, but really way out of the way for a car from Damascus.  Map is below.

CreeperTrailCafeMap
Map of road to get from Damascus to the Creeper Trail Cafe and Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe
Upbeet Cafe Sign – near Taylors Valley, VA
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley...about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.
The Creeper Trail Cafe is along the trail in Taylors Valley…about 20 minutes from Damascus through Tennessee and then back into Virginia.

Actually, the Upbeet Cafe, where Julianne was stranded, is further north up VA 725.  Fortunately, a good Samaritan took her in a truck from the Upbeet to the famed Creeper Trail Cafe where I was able to find her and get the bike loaded.

As a result of the downed bike and the time required to drive to Taylors Valley and back to Damascus, we decided to call it a day and go again on the next day.  So, we drove back into Damascus, got the bike repaired at SunDog and then found our way to a place to eat.

At Damascus Old Mill Inn
At Damascus Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn
Mural in Damascus advertising the Old Mill Inn

I am always about eating at local places when on the road and had researched to find that the Old Mill Inn in Damascus was THE place to eat in town.  There are many other eateries, but this one is along the river and overlooks a scenic waterfall.

The view from our table
The view from our table

The thing about this unique eatery is that the menu is upscale and the dining experience is nice, but they cater to the casually dressed bikers and hikers. We were given great treatment by Kara Maguire, who is related to the owners.  And we got a special treat when the Head Chef, John King, came out personally to serve us our unique and tasty dishes.  All this while we sat at a table overlooking the waterfall behind the mill.

A unique duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
A unique Muscovy duck in the river by Old Mill Inn
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.
Head Chef John King presents our dishes at the Old Mill Restaurant.

The atmosphere was casual, but the dining experience was upscale. They first brought us some Asian inspired tacos as an appetizer. These were so good that they disappeared before I could even get a photo!  For dinner, Julianne got a vegan dish called Beet Risotto that included some root vegetables that had been steamed and spiced and were laid on top of the risotto. It was very tasty. I picked up a nice pulled-pork three cheese sandwich with their homemade “Mill Slaw.”  Marissa had a chicken curry sandwich which was also quite amazing.

Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
Julianne had a Beet Risotto with spiced root vegetables. It was delectable
David had a Reuben sandwich with three cheeses and their homemade "Mill Slaw". Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for
David had a Pulled Pork with three cheeses and their homemade “Mill Slaw”. Their tomato dipping sauce was to die for

After dinner, we  spent the night in Bristol, Virginia. I had earned a free night through my Choice Hotels points and stayed at Quality Inn and Suites.  It was a nice restful evening as prepared to get up early the next morning to return to Whitetop.

US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus
US Hwy 58 in Virginia, near Damascus

Our drive up to Whitetop Station on Sunday was phenomenal! Along the roadway there were many places where we saw sunbeams coming through the trees, such as the photos that I have included below.  Reminded me of a reference to Paul the Apostle in Acts 9:3 in the New Testament that says: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven.” Indeed, on US 58 near Damascus, we too enjoyed the lights from Heaven on that Sabbath morning.

The Ligfhts from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
The Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven on US 58 near Damascus, VA
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus
More Lights from Heaven as seen on US 58 near Damascus, VA
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus
Stopped at one of the bridges on the way back to Damascus

After dropping them off on the trail,  I made my way back down the road and visited a couple of the bridges and then went on to Damascus and did more driving around town to find old buildings, little bed-and-breakfast places and ultimately a place for us to eat dinner.

At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
At one of the steel bridges on the Virginia Creeper Trail
Shuttle Shack - one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
Shuttle Shack – one of many business offering shuttles of bikes to the top of the mountain
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus
In the Country Bakery and Eatery on the outskirts of Damascus

On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a place along the trail called In the Country Bakery and Eatery. There are actually many places along the trail, some of which are actually a challenge to get to via automobile but have been built specifically to handle trail traffic. I

At In the Country Cafe
At In the Country Cafe

already mentioned the Upbeet Cafe and Creeper Cafe above. But on this day we stopped at In the Country which sit on the outskirts of Damascus. They offer sandwiches, baked goods and home made fudge. Their food was reasonable and they had indoor and outdoor seating with a view of the trail across US 58.

Bike Parking at In the Country - a popular place on the trail
Bike Parking at In the Country – a popular place on the trail
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
Reuben Sandwich and Sweet Potato Fries at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
A Nice Salad Offering at In the Country
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus
Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream in Damascus

On the same site they have a great ice cream place called Off the Beaten Path Ice Cream Shoppe.  It so happened that July 17 was National Ice Cream Day so we all indulged in ice cream.

They offered about 20 different flavors and also had some sherbets so it was perfect for a very warm day.

Ice Cream
Ice Cream
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream offerings at Off the Beaten Path
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path... LOL
Ice Cream Chart in Off the Beaten Path… LOL
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Celebrating National Ice Cream Day with a nice ice cream cone at Off the Beaten Path
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA
Julianne and Marissa on the trail to Abingdon, VA

After lunch and a little relaxing Julianne and Marissa took off for the remaining 13 or 14 miles of their trip to Abingdon, Virginia on the Creeper Trail. I too made my way to Abingdon via US Highway 58 and took a couple of detours to get photos of the trail with them riding on it.  I also found a couple of nice bridge shots along the way.

Apparently, the last few miles of the trail to Abingdon have a grueling gradual uphill climb, but not nearly the altitude change.  Indeed, Damascus sits at 1952′ while Abingdon is at 2087′, which means about a 100′ rise.  However, there was still some downhill from Damascus apparently.

Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA - one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
Trestle #4 near Abingdon, VA – one of 47 trestles on the 32 mile trail
For obvious reasons....no parking
For obvious reasons….no parking
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don't think it works anymore -- HA
This old Pepsi machine sits along the side of the Creeper Trail west of Damascus. Don’t think it works anymore — HA
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
An old house with License Plate Siding. This was seen along the trail
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Bridge Number 4 near Watauga Rd. close to Abingdon
Welcome to Abingdon, VA
Welcome to Abingdon, VA

I got to Abingdon much earlier than they did and was able to drive around the little town, which also caters to the biking crowd and to the hiking crowd.  I discovered a movie complex with great wall art so had to grab a couple of shots.  Always like fun Wall Art.

Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Main Street, including the large courthouse, in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Street corner in Abingdon, VA
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
Wall Art at the Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
More art at Abingdon Cinemall
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center - Abingdon, VA
Virginia Creeper Welcome Center – Abingdon, VA

Abingdon has a Virginia Creeper Welcome Center at the end of the trail and it includes many old relics from the railroad and also has the last train engine to ride along that railroad from the 1980s. The final bridge, bridge number one, is the end of the trail and in that vicinity there are other little things to see.

The Old Engine of the Creeper - last train to run the rails in the 1980s
The Old Engine of the Creeper – last train to run the rails in the 1980s
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Sumoflam with Virginia Creeper engine in Abingdon
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead - Bridge Number 1
Signage at the Abingdon Trailhead – Bridge Number 1
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon
Julianne and Marissa at the end of the trail in Abingdon – after 37 miles

DSC_6819After we loaded the bikes, we departed for Kentucky via Bristol, VA where we had spent the night previously. Bristol, VA is one of those unique towns that actually is split into two states. The drive along State Street will feature flags of the United States and Virginia on one side of the highway and flags of Tennessee and the United States on the other side. There are theaters, and number of murals in the town and the fairly well known large archway that welcomes people to Bristol.

Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
Welcome to Bristol. I took this from the Tennessee side of the road.
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
The Tennessee side of State Street in Bristol, VA
Part of a large mural in Bristol
Part of a large mural in Bristol
State Street in Bristol -- left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
State Street in Bristol — left side is Tennessee, right side is Virginia, yellow line is state border
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Old Wall Advertisement in Bristol
Enter sign at Pal's Sudden Service
Enter sign at Pal’s Sudden Service

While driving through town we came across a fast food place called Pal’s Sudden Service.  We didn’t stop there to eat (we were already full), but I loved the unique building design — totally quirky.  And I really got a kick out of their  road sign — Exercise Daily.   The building only has drive thru windows and no other windows. But the giant hot dog and hamburger can’t be missed!  They apparently are located mainly in east Tennessee and southwest Virginia, with 28 shops dotting this region.  The company got its start in Kingsport, TN, where the original Pal’s still sits with its giant Burger Holding Muffler Man statue (looks like I need another trip!)

A Pal's Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
A Pal’s Sudden Service building. Lots of fun and it looks like the food is great too.
After eating Pal's food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn't help but chuckle
After eating Pal’s food make sure to Exercise Daily. Couldn’t help but chuckle
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet
Cumberland Gap Tunnel where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet

Our Drive back to Lexington from Bristol took us through Cumberland Gap and we were able to take the famed Cumberland Gap Tunnel which brought us into the town of Middlesboro.

Originally completed in October 1996, the tunnels each carry two-lanes of traffic.  Each tunnel was bored through 4100-feet of solid rock. At the tallest point, the tunnels are 30-feet high. Cross passages, located every 300-feet, connect the two tunnels and are equipped with fire extinguishers and phones for emergency use.

Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky
Exiting the Cumberland Gap tunnel into Kentucky

Since the mountain releases approximately 450 gallons of water every minute, thick PVC liner around the tunnels ensures that the bores stay dry. Air quality is monitored constantly by electronic sensors, and ventilation fans are located every 600-feet to keep air circulating in the tunnel. Variable message board signs are located in the Cumberland Gap vicinity to warn drivers of impending hazardous traffic and weather conditions or to direct traffic flow. AM and FM radio stations can be overridden with emergency messages as well.

Welcome to Middlesboro, KY
Welcome to Middlesboro, KY

The town of Middlesboro, KY is one a few towns in the United States or perhaps even the world, that is built completely within the confines of a meteor crater. We stopped there for dinner at a Mexican restaurant and enjoyed some fairly good food. From there we zipped back up through Barbourville and Corbin and then back into Lexington.

Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA
Sunflower taken at the end of Virginia Creeper Trail in Abingdon, VA

It was a quick two day trip, but it was very fun and the scenery was amazing. The mountains of Appalachia especially in southeast Kentucky southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee are very beautiful. We look forward to taking another trip to the area in October when the colors should all be changed.   Needless to say, the summer brings its own variety of colors in the wildflowers, some of which I captured in digital form…another plus to a trip like this!

Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
Flowers as seen along the Virginia Creeper Trail
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
A field of Chicory wildflowers Virginia/Kentucky border
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
Bee on a Chicory Bloom
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA
A pink hibiscus growing near a cafe in Damascus, VA

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